Cooper: O'Driscoll one of the greatest of all time
QUADE COOPER paid Brian O'Driscoll the ultimate compliment by declaring "he epitomises rugby".
There is something of the giddy schoolboy when the 25 year-old mercurial, controversial, uniquely gifted Australian out-half talks about the Leinster centre.
"You are playing against a future Hall of Famer of rugby. It is a daunting task when you think of him as the guy you want a photo with after the game," said Cooper.
"It is impossible to say a bad word about him because he's been playing the game for so long. When I was growing up as a kid, he was a massive name through the world back then.
"He is a competitive bloke. He is a tough athlete. He is very successful. He has made his career last and he's also been able to continue to evolve his game to stick with it over such a long period of time.
"Brian O'Driscoll has always been at the top of the class for his position and at the top of the class as a rugby player in the world.
"No one would ever doubt Brian as a rugby player. He is one of the greatest players of all time," said Cooper.
Cooper remembers "the history and the emotion" of playing against Ireland at Croke Park in 2009. It turned out to be another day that O'Driscoll hurt Australia, something he has made a habit out of over the years.
"There was 30 seconds left in the game, I think, and there was a scrum on our right hand side. They ran an eight-nine play and O'Driscoll scored under the sticks.
"That is quite a heartbreaking feeling when you draw a game like that. I look at a draw and think of it as a loss," he said.
Like Cooper, O'Driscoll is one of those players special plans are made for in internationals. Jonathan Sexton is another to fall into that category.
"He's got a good kicking game. He's got a solid running game. I always like watching him play," noted Cooper.
"You look at him and probably his biggest attribute is how competitive he is, like most fly-halfs in the game. He has also had a great guy ahead of him, who he has been able to learn off of with (Ronan) O'Gara.
"When I watch him play, I see him around the ruck fighting for inches to try and get ahead. Being able to contest against him this week will be an interesting battle.
"You like to play against the best players and he is definitely one of them".
The jury is still out on Cooper, not in terms of his skills, but in relation to his faulty judgment on where to be and when to try something extraordinary.
He has seen Australia shed the baggage of Robbie Deans for his former club coach Ewen McKenize and the injection of confidence from that change has transformed his game.